Morning Memo: Lawmakers not satisfied with McCrory administration’s answers

Posted by John Frank on October 9, 2013 

After grilling leaders at the state Department of Health and Human Services for about nine hours on Tuesday about flawed programs and high salaries, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expressed frustration.

Legislators didn’t get a firm date for when a Medicaid claims payment system that’s frustrating hospitals, doctors and medical equipment companies will work as advertised. Nor were some happy with DHHS Secretary Dr. Aldona Wos’ explanation that she followed state rules when paying two 24-year-olds $85,000 and $87,500 respectively. Read the full story here.

***This is the Dome Morning Memo, a daily roundup of North Carolina political news and intelligence. Read much more below.***

TODAY IN POLITICS: Gov. Pat McCrory lists one item on his public scheduled today: marking the 85th anniversary of Nationwide Insurance. He'll attend the celebration at 10 a.m. in Raleigh.

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THE ENTIRE DHHS MESS IN ONE EXCHANGE: Mark Binker at WRAL-TV reports that Republican state Sen. Ralph Hise questioned efforts to get public records from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services after a North Carolina Health News story showed an effort to slant a Medicaid audit response. And Secretary Aldona Wos agreed, saying it was taking away from the agency doing it's job – which she implied doesn't include providing public records. Democratic state Sen. Martin Nesbitt defended public transparency. As Binker reports, here's the exchange:

HISE: "I think there is an intent here to inundate the department with public information requests, and when you get to the point where you're questioning why something was deleted from a report at some previous time the report was submitted ... I think you're starting to see a witch hunt."

WOS: "… It is very time-consuming for us and is pulling us away from the work we should be doing, whether it's Medicaid reform, whether it's now the federal shutdown, whether it's sequestration ... It is truly taking away time and resources from us doing our jobs."

NESBITT: The second thing is, it's not a witch hunt to try to find out what went on, and all of these changes were made by this administration after they took over ... There's not – maybe the lady who wrote the article was on a witch hunt. I think she found one."

QUESTION: Does Gov. Pat McCrory agree with Hise and Wos?

ADVOCACY GROUPS USE REPORT TO HIT McCRORY: It’s easy to see why the McCrory administration and Republicans would push back against the North Carolina Health News report. An advocacy group critical of Republicans is using it to bash the McCrory administration. In an alert titled “McCrory: Stop lying about Medicaid,” Action NC links to the story and asks its supporters to sign a petition to oppose the “blatantly political cover-up.”

NIKKI HALEY'S N.C. VISIT STILL CAUSING PROBLEMS: Gov. Nikki Haley's campaign has reached an agreement with S.C. law enforcement and campaign watchdogs on paying to use state vehicles and security officers for campaign-related events.

The agreement comes six weeks after news reports about Haley and two campaign staffers riding in a state-issued SUV being involved in a minor wreck at a Greensboro event for a political group with ties to Republican N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory. Republican Haley collected more than $35,000 from N.C. donors in the days around the June event. The wreck raised questions about the governor's use of a state vehicle for what appeared to be a campaign event. Read more here.

DID McCRORY REIMBURSE THE STATE? The private nonprofit formed to boost McCrory organized the event in Greensboro earlier this summer. Did McCrory reimburse the state for his transport to a campaign event? Dome is awaiting a response from the governor's office.

SHUTDOWN: President Barack Obama apologized to the American people Tuesday for the bitter fiscal impasse that has shut down parts of the federal government, but he continued to blame Republicans for it.

“I know the American people are tired of it,” Obama said at a White House news conference. “I apologize that you have to go through this stuff every three months, it seems like. And Lord knows I’m tired of it.”

The president again urged Republicans in the House of Representatives to pass bills immediately to reopen the government and increase the nation’s borrowing limit, even while continuing to call them irresponsible hostage takers. Read more here.

NUTRITION PROGRAM RUNS OUT OF MONEY AMID SHUTDOWN: The federal government shutdown will soon affect the ability of thousands of North Carolina’s low-income mothers and their infants to get food and nutrition.

The state announced Tuesday that it had discontinued issuing food and nutrition benefits to women, infants and young children in the state because the shutdown in Washington had dried up federal funding. Because 80 percent of those eligible have already received their benefits for October, the shutdown will not immediately affect most recipients. In North Carolina, 264,000 women, infants and young children are enrolled in the program. Read more here.

MORE LOCAL IMPACT – N.C. employers shut out of E-Verify: Following the federal government shutdown last week, some Triangle businesses are facing a snag in their hiring process.

That’s because North Carolina requires employers with 25 or more permanent employees to use E-Verify, a federal Internet-based system, to check within three days of a hire whether a new worker is eligible to work in the United States. Read more here.

CHARLOTTE GOP, DEMOCRATIC LAWMAKERS REFLECT IMPASSE: With the government shutdown entering its second week, the divergent views of three Charlotte-area congressmen on Tuesday reflected the deep divide that has paralyzed the nation’s capital.

Republican Reps. Robert Pittenger and Richard Hudson said Tuesday that some Charlotte-area constituents tell them they want the shutdown ended, but even more say stopping the Affordable Care Act and cutting federal spending are more important.

But Democratic Rep. Mel Watt said he’s hearing from constituents who just want the shutdown to end and aren’t interested in debating the health-care law. Read more here.

WALTER JONES WANTS A CLEAN CR TO END SHUTDOWN: MSNBC reports – For Rep. Walter Jones, the shutdown is finally starting to hit home. The North Carolina Congressman now becomes the latest Republican to call for re-opening the government without any strings attached. “I wish we would pass a clean CR,” said Jones, who represents the state’s third district. “People are beginning back home to feel it. It might be imaginary, but they feel it.”

Jones cited the example of a car dealer in his district who told him hadn’t had a customer in the past six days. “He’s saying people are just beginning now to get concerned if y’all are going to able to fix it or not,” Jones recalled. “He said [the shutdown] does impact people. Maybe they don’t work for the federal government, but it’s all beginning to become a psychological issue now.” Read more here.

LOCAL ELECTIONS CENTRAL:

Wake School Board makes further shift from red to blue: Democrats achieved a near-complete hold on the Wake County Board of Education in Tuesday’s election. Read more here.

Voters show appetite for bonds: Two bond referendums that showed a divide in the Republican Party between anti-bond conservatives and pro-bond business Republicans won easily. Read about the school bonds here. And the transportation bonds here.

State GOP sees test run for 2014 in Charlotte mayor’s race: Taking a page from Democrats, the state and national Republican parties have stepped into a Charlotte mayoral race for the first time – with an eye on a bigger race in 2014.

The N.C. Republican Party, with financial help from the national party, has provided five field organizers for Republican mayoral candidate Edwin Peacock, who faces Democrat Patrick Cannon in November. “It’s all about turning out the vote,” said Todd Poole, executive director of the N.C. GOP. “We’ve ID’d voters, which will certainly be helpful in 2014. We’ve recruited volunteers. There are lots of benefits to getting an early start.”

Turning out the vote for Peacock could boost Republicans when their candidate faces Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan in 2014. And the GOP needs help in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. Read more here.

N.C. RESIDENTS AMONG THOSE ARRESTED ON IMMIGRATION RALLY: Eleven members of the North Carolina immigration advocacy group Latin American Coalition were arrested on the National Mall in D.C., including 18-year-old Jessica Contreras, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. Read more here.

STATE PENSION MOVES TO RISKIER BETS: From Bloomberg – In one of the few things Republicans and Democrats can agree on in North Carolina, the state is adding to its lagging bets on private equity and real estate to pump up its $80 billion public-worker pension fund.

Governor Pat McCrory, a Republican, signed a bill in August raising limits on investments in alternatives to stocks and bonds. The Tar Heel state’s $3.4 billion private-equity portfolio has returned about 7 percent over 10 years, almost 4 percentage points below the pension’s benchmark. Real estate investments returned 2.6 percentage points below target.

“We’re behaving like a losing gambler right now,” said Ardis Watkins, legislative-affairs director for North Carolina’s State Employees Association, the state’s second-biggest public-worker union. “We’re chasing money.” Read more here.

SCOTUS WARY OF CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTION LIMITS: The Supreme Court appeared ready Tuesday to free big individual donors to give more money to political candidates in the court's first major campaign finance case since the justices took the lid off of independent spending in 2010. Read more here.

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